World of Tiers 02 - The Gates of Creation, page 10
FROM THE EDGE OF THE RIVER, WHERE THE DRAGONBOAT WAS beached, Wolff studied the problem. It was useless to try to climb the near-perpendicular and near-frictionless rock without some aids. A rope had to be thrown up to catch on something. The hexagons were too wide to try to settle a noose around them.
A grappling hook might do the job. It could be presumed that the other side of the gate-that which opened onto another planet, he hoped-would hold a grapple.
The hides of animals could be cut and tied or sewn together to make a rope, although the strips would have to be tanned to give them flexibility. The metal for the hooks was a big problem.
There might be metal somewhere in this world, perhaps not too far away. But getting to it across the land would be a slow process. So, there was only one thing to do, and he did not expect that the two most vital in this particular project would be cooperative.
Nor were they. Vala did not want to give up her sword and Theo`tormon refused to part with his knife.
Wolff argued with them for several hours, pointing out that if they did not give up their weapons, they would be dead in time anyway.
Wolff said, after Theotormon's violent refusal, "Very well. Be pigheaded. But if the rest of us find a way to get through the gate, we will not take you with us. I swear it! You will be pushed back into this pale world of icestone, and you will stay here until an animal devours you or you die of old age."
Vala looked around at the Lords who sat in a circle about her. She smiled and said, "Very well. You may have my sword."
"You won't get my knife, I promise you that," Theotormon said.
The others began to scoot on their buttocks towards him. He stood up and tried to run past them. His huge feet gave him a better grip on the white stuff than the others could manage, but Wolff reached out and clutched his ankle, and he went down. He fought as best he could, submerged under the pile of bodies. Eventually, weeping, he gave up. Then, muttering, scowling, he went off to sit down on the river's edge by himself.
With some chalky stone he found, Wolff traced lines on Vala's sword. He set the beamer at full power and quickly cut out triangles. He then arranged the three pieces and set several round pieces of the sword on top of them. With the beamer at half-power he fused the three prongs and round pieces into a single unit. After plunging these into cold water, he heated the prongs in their middles and hammered them into slightly hooked shapes. He curved another strip of sword with heat and hammered and fused this onto the top of the prong so that a rope could be tied around it.
Since he did not have to use Theotormon's knife, he gave it back to him. He cut the end of Vala's sword into a point and thus provided her with a somewhat short sword. As he pointed out, it was better than nothing.
Making the rope took several days. It was not difficult to kill and flay the animals and then cut out strips for rope lengths. Tanning presented difficulties. He searched for materials but could find nothing. Finally, he decided to grease the plaited rawhide with animal fat and hope for the best.
One dawn, as the empurpling shadow of the moon withdrew, the dragonboat was launched well above the gaterock. With the Lords behind him paddling backwards, Wolff stood up in the prow, and he cast the grapple upwards in an arc and released the rope after it.
The three-pronged device went through the gate and disappeared. He pulled in on it as the boat rammed into the base of the rock. For a second, he thought he had a hold. Then the grapple came flying out of the gate, and he fell back. He caught himself, but the uneasy equilibrium of the boat was upset. It turned over, and all went into the water. They clung to the upturned bottom, and Wolff managed to keep hold of the rope and grapple.
A half-hour later, they tried again.
"Try and try again," Wolff told them. "That's an old Earth saying."
"Spare me your proverbs," Rintrah said. "I'm soaked as a drowning rat and as miserable. Do you think there's any use trying again?"
"What else is there to do? Let's get at it. Give it the old college try."
They looked at him uncomprehendingly and then reluctantly launched the boat again. Now Wolff made a more difficult cast. He threw for the very top of the hexagon. It was at least twelve feet high, which made the top of the frame forty-two feet above water. Nevertheless, he threw well, the prongs gripping the other side of the frame.
"I got it!" he said grinning. He pulled in on the rope to take up the slack. The boat slid on by the right side of the rock, rubbing against it. He ordered the men to continue backwatering, which they tried without success. The boat began to bend as the current wrapped it around the rock. Wolff, in the bow, knew that if he continued to be carried with the boat, he would slide the prongs sidewise off the top of the frame.
He clung to the rawhide rope and allowed the boat to be taken off from under him. Then Wolff was hanging onto the rope, his feet in the water. He lifted his feet to brace himself against the rock, only to have them slide away. He quit this method of climbing and hauled himself up, hand-over-hand, on the greasy rope. This was not easy to do, since the rock curved just gently enough to make the rope follow it closely, the tension being greatest just above his handhold. Without slack, he had to force his hands to slide between rope and rock.
He rose slowly. Halfway up, he felt the tension go. There was a crack, barely audible above the swirl of water at the rock-base. Yelling with disappointment, he fell back into the river.
When he was hauled out by Vala and Enion, he discovered that two of the prongs had broken across where they joined the top part. The pieces were now somewhere at the bottom of the river.
"What do we do now?" Palamabron snarled at him. "You have used up all our weapons and drained your beamer of much of its power. And we are no closer to getting through the gate than before. Less, I say. Look at us. Look at me. Spouting water like an old fish brought up from the abyss and weary, oh, Los, how weary!"
"Go fly a kite," Wolff said. "Another old Earth saying."
He stopped, eyes widening, and said, "I wonder. . ."
Palamabron threw his hands up into the air and said, "Oh, no, not another of your wonderful ideas!"
"Wonderful or not, they're ideas," Wolff said. "So far, I'm the only one who's had anything to offer . . . besides whinings, complaints, and backbitings."
He lay on his back for a while, staring up at the purple skies and chewing on a piece of meat Luvah had handed him. Was a kite a fantastic thought? Even if it could be built, would it work?
He discarded the kite. If one were made big enough to carry a heavy prong, it would not go through the hexagon. Wait a minute. What if the kite, dangling a hook on the end of a rope, were flown above the hexagon? He groaned and gave up the kite again. It just would not work.
Suddenly, he sat up and shouted. "It might do it! Two!"
"Two what?" Luvah said, startled out of his drowse.
"Who said anything about kites?" Luvah replied.
"Two boats and two good men to throw," Wolff cried. "It might work. It better. I've about exhausted my ideas, and it's evident I'm not going to get any from the rest of you. You've used your brains these many thousands of years for only one purpose: to kill each other. You're good for nothing else. But, by Los, I'm going to make you good for something else!"
"You're tired," Vala said. "Lie down and rest." She was grinning at him. That surprised him. Now, what would she be amused about? She was wet and muscle-aching and as frustrated as the others.
Could it be that she still had some love for him beneath that hate? Perhaps she was proud of him that he continued to improvise and to fight while the others only nursed their resentments.
Or was she trying to make him think that she still loved him and was proud of him? Did she have a secret reason for this display of amiability?
He did not know. To be a Lord was to mistrust every motive of another Lord, and with good reason.
By the time the first two coracles
Using wood of the bushes and tree branches and strips of hide for ties, he made a high scaffolding. Each of its four legs was placed on a boat, one on the dragoncraft and each one of the other three on a coracle. Then, after rehearsing the Lords many times in what they must do, Wolff began the operation. Slowly, the boats at the base of the rectangular scaffolding were pushed into the water. The current near the shore was not as swift as out in the river's center, so the Lords could keep it from being carried off at once. While they swam and shoved against the boats, Wolff climbed up the narrow ladder built on one leg of the scaffolding. This was supported by the larger dragon boat, and thus the leg with Wolff on it did not tip over too far. Even so, for a moment, he feared a turnover. Then, as he hitched himself on his belly along the planking of the scaffolding, the structure righted.
The other Lords, working in teams, climbed into the big boat and the three small ones. They went in simultaneously, to distribute the weight equally. Vala, Theotormon, and Luvah were each already in a coracle, and they helped Palamabron, Enion, and Ariston. Tharmas was very agile; he got into the dragonboat with a quick heave and twist of his body.
The Lords began paddling to direct the scaffolding. They had some trouble at first, since the coracles, built more like tubs than boats, were difficult to navigate. But they had launched the structure well above their goal so that they could get the feel of their awkward craft before they reached the rock. Wolff clung to the forward part of the structure, the bridge, which projected out above the water. The bridge pitched and rolled, and twice he thought sure that it would go over with him. Then the white dome of the rock with the twin golden hexagons was dead ahead. He shouted down to the Lords, and they began backpaddling. It was vital that the scaffolding not crash into the rock with much speed. Fragile, it could not resist a strong impact.
Wolff had decided that he would enter the left gate, since the last time they had taken the right. But as the end of the bridge neared, the scaffolding veered. The bridge drove in at a slant towards the right hexagon. Wolff rose to a crouch, and, as the structure rammed with a loud noise into the rock, he leaped forward. He shot through the hexagon with his beamer in his belt and a rope coiled around his shoulders.
HE DID NOT HAVE THE SLIGHTEST IDEA OF WHAT HE WOULD FIND ON the other side. He expected either another planet or Urizen's stronghold. He suspected that Urizen was not through playing with them, and that he would find himself on the third of the planets that revolved around Appirmatzum. He might have a comfortable landing or be dropping into a pit of wild beasts or down a precipice.
As he landed, he realized that he had come in against an incline. He bent his knees and put out his hands and so stopped himself from banging into the stone. It was smooth but not frictionless, and it leaned away from him at a forty-five degree angle. Turning, he saw why the grapples had slid back out of the gate at his first experiment. The base of the hexagon on this side was set flush with the stone. There was no purchase for any hold.
He smiled, knowing that his father had foreseen hooks and had set up the trap against them. But his son had gotten through.
Wolff pushed against the seemingly empty area within the hexagon. Unlike the gate through which they had entered the water-world, this was not one-way. Urizen did not care, for some reason or another, whether they went back into the planet of purple skies. Or he knew that they would never want to return to it.
Wolff climbed up the stone incline, which was set on the side of a hill. He tied one end of his rope around a small tree and then went back to the gate. He flipped the free end of the rope through the gate. It jerked, and presently Vala's face appeared. He helped her through, and the two of them grabbed hold of the other Lords as they climbed through.
When Rintrah, the last, was safe, Wolff stuck his head through the gate for a final look. He made it quick, because it gave him a frightening feeling to know that his body was on a planet twenty thousand miles distant from his head. And it would be a grim joke, exactly to his father's tastes, if Urizen should deactivate the gate at that moment.
The end of the bridge was only three feet from the hexagon. The scaffolding was still holding straight, although in time the currents would swing one of the boats supporting a leg and carry off the whole structure.
He withdrew his head, his neck feeling as if it had just escaped a guillotine.
The Lords should have been exultant, but they were too tired from their labors, and they were burdened with the future. By now, they knew that they were on another of the satellites of Appirmatzum. The sky was a deep yellow. The land around them was, apart from this hill, flat. The ground was covered with a six-inch high grass, and there were many bushes. These were much like the Terrestrial plants Wolff knew. There were at least a dozen species which bore berries of different sizes, colors, and shapes.
The berries had one thing in common, however. They all had a very disagreeable odor.
Near the hill of the gate was the shore of a sea. Along the sea ran a broad yellow sandbeach that extended as far as they could see. Wolff looked inland and saw mountains. The side of one had some curious formations that resembled a face. The longer he looked at it, the more sure he was that it was a face.
He said to the other Lords, "Our father has given us a sign, I think. A marker on the road to the next gate. I also think that he is not directing us just for our benefit."
They started across the plain towards the distant ranges. Presently, they came to a broad river and followed its course. They found its water to be pure and sweet, and they ate the meat and berries they had brought with them from the white-and-purple world. Then the night-bringing moon swung around the horizon. This was mauve and, like the other satellites, swept the surface of the primary with a pale dusk.
They slept and marched all the next day. They were a silent troop now, tired and footsore and nervous because of their lack of weapons. Their silence was also a reflection of the hush of this world. Not an animal or bird cried, nor did they see any life besides themselves and the vegetation. Several times they thought they saw a small creature in the distance, but when they neared the place, they could find nothing.
The mountains were three days away. As they got closer, the features became more distinct. The evening of the second day, the face became that of Urizen. It was smiling at them, the eyes looking down. Then the Lords became even more silent and startful, since they could not escape the gigantic stone face of their father. Always, he seemed to be mocking them.
Halfway through the fourth day, they stood at the foot of the mountain and below the brobdingnagian chin of Urizen. The mountain was of solid stone, flesh-pink and very hard. Near where they stood was an opening, a narrow canyon that rose to the top of the mountain, at least ten thousand feet above.
Wolff said, "There doesn't seem any other way to go than through there. Unless we go around the mountains. And I think we'd be wasting our time if we did that."
Palamabron said, "Why should we do what our father wants?"
"We have no choice," Wolff said.
"Yes, we'll dance to his tune, and then he'll catch us and spit us on a roast, like fowl," Palamabron said. "I have a notion to quit this trudging, this weary weary road."
"And where will you settle down?" Vala said. "Here? In this paradise? You may be too stupid to have noticed it, brother, but we are almost out of food. The meat is almost gone, and we ate the last of the berries this morning. We have seen nothing on this world that seems edible. You may try the berries, if you wish. But I think they're poisonous."
"Oh, Los! Do you think Urizen means to starve us to death?" Palamabron said.
Wolff said, "I think we'll starve unless we find some food. And we won't find any standing here."
He led the way into the canyon.
The Lords followed a meandering course all day. That night, they ate the last of their food. When dawn came, they rose with empty bellies and a feeling that this time their fortune had deserted them. Wolff led them as swiftly as he dared, thinking that the sooner they got out of the gloomy canyon, the better. Moreover, this place offered no food. There were no fish in the river; there were not even insects.
The second day of their starvation, they saw their first living creature. They came around a bend, all silent and walking slowly. Their noiselessness, plus their approach from downwind, enabled them to be close to the animal before it detected them. Two feet high, it was standing on its kangaroo-like hind legs and holding a branch with two lemur-like front paws. On seeing them, it quit eating the berries, glanced wildly around, and then launched itself away with great leaps. Its long thin tail projected stiffly behind it.
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